Title: So Long a Letter
Author: Bâ, Mariama
Translator: Bode-Thomas, Modupe
Length: 90 pages
Genre: Fiction, General
Publisher / Year: Heinemann Educational Publishers / 1989
Original Publisher / Year: Les Nouvelle Editions Africaines / 1980
I thought I would start with some of the information that I normally put in my review on my own site. For anyone who hasn’t read this book yet, now you have a bit of information on it 🙂 I know that less people were able to participate in this book as it is generally less available. We must get on these library systems to get more copies in circulation – I think after reading the opinions that I’ve seen at least are all hugely in favor of the book!
One of my favorite parts of the book is still the conversation with her would be suitor on page 60-1 where she says:
‘In many fields, and without skirmishes, we have taken advantage of the notable achievements that have reached us from elsewhere, the gains wrestled from the lessons of history. We have a right, just as you have, to education, which we ought to be able to pursue to the furthest limits of our intellectual capacities. We have a right to equal well-paid employment, to equal opportunities. The right to vote is an important weapon. And now the Family Code has been passed, restoring to the most humble of women the dignity that has so often been trampled upon.’
Bâ, I felt, did a really good job of portraying the way that polygamy affects women, and how it is such a slap in the face to the wives. She did so in a way that lets the reader made their own judgement and without being preachy manages to make her point come across very strongly.
What I also really liked about the book (as I alluded to in the discussion post!) was how the reaction of each of the women was shown and neither was castigated. Both of their decisions are shown as being rational and well thought out decisions. There is no one ‘right’ response with all others being wrong but rather a case by case basis with each woman trying to come up with the best solution for her situation. It really highlights the individuality of all of our situations, whatever they be, and how important it is not to judge others for their decisions.
Because there haven’t been as many readers of this book I wanted to share with you what they thought of it. Here is a roundup of what others thought (those included are those who linked in the discussion post and introduction post – there is a place below to add in your own link and direct us to your thoughts, if you’ve posted!)
Dragonflyy419 at Dragonflyy419 Attempts to Combat Boredom wrote about the issues faced by both women but especially by the narrator. She also included a fantastic excerpt. I really liked what she said about the issues that the narrator faced.
Throughout the book Mariama Ba points out the difficulties that the Senegalese woman faces in a very male dominated world. The widow talks about the stresses of being a working mother trying to support her household and twelve children, especially after her husband abandoned her for his second wife, her co-wife.
Lisa at BaffledBooks wrote a great post talking about what she liked about the book (many of the same things I did!). She also said:
Other highlights of the book for me include, the first solo voyae to the movie theatre, her growing comfort with handling the finaces and household maintaine when her husband failed to keep up with the and the typicial what do I do with my children? problems. These all were completely relatable situations, one anybody, anywhere, can understand and it was these and other similar events that really pulled it into focus for me how similar the problems we encounter are, even if the situation that create them are so different.
Ana of Things Mean A Lot, one of my co-hosts here also really enjoyed how the two women had different reactions which showed how we need to respect others and their decisions. She said:
It probably goes without saying that I love feminism, and that I feel nothing but complete gratitude and appreciation for the ongoing work of giving women full human status, not merely in words but also in deeds. And yet there’s sometimes the danger that some person or other’s definition of feminism will become a new mould into which women are expected to fit – which is the last thing we want to happen. It was with relief, then, that I noticed that So Long a Letter did a wonderful job of avoiding this trap by having two characters react to their husbands’ bigamy differently and casting no judgement or accusations on either one of them.
Ana’s post also talks about the bravery exhibited by both women.
Emily at Evening All Afternoon read the book in it’s original French and wrote a very detailed post with so much that I could comment on here! I will just say that she brings up some really interesting points about education, feminism and timing, language, marriage laws and how culture and religion sometimes distort each other. On the feminism and timing she says:
His points, therefore, are heartfelt, and one can sympathize with them: in a country working so hard just to establish its national identity, combating the worst kinds of poverty while simultaneously attempting to garner respect (and funding) on the international stage, is it realistic to prioritize changing the status of women, either in politics or in everyday life? On the other hand, these are exactly the arguments that have been used to squelch so many other feminist struggles worldwide
Beachreader also wrote a great post talking about what she liked in the book and said:
Recognizing that change is difficult, Ramatoulaye compares the new found independence of her country to her new feelings of refashioning her life and starts the change within herself as she confronts modern challenges with her daughters.
So interesting to think of the time of history and how it affected the writing.
If you have written about the book, please add your link using the link below.